Conserving and rehabilitating peatlands does not mean that these areas become off-limits to economic activity. Several options for sustainable use of wet peatlands exist, and local communities have made use of such opportunities for centuries. In addition, peatlands can be cultivated with crops adapted to the wet soil conditions – a practice known as paludiculture.
Paludicultures (Latin ‘palus’ = swamp) are land management techniques that cultivate biomass from wet and rewetted peatlands under conditions that maintain the peat body, facilitate peat accumulation and sustain the ecosystem services associated with natural peatlands. Paludicultures help stop peat oxidation and simultaneously provide sustainable harvests from peatlands. Paludicultures use only that part of net primary production that is not essential for peat formation.
Paludicultures make use of any biomass from wet and rewetted peatlands, from spontaneous vegetation on natural sites to artificially-established crops on rewetted sites. Besides being used for food, feed, fiber and direct combustion, the biomass from paludicultures can be used as a raw material for industrial biochemistry, for producing high quality liquid or gaseous biofuels and for synthesizing pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
An obvious paludiculture practice is the collection of food for direct consumption. In the boreal zone of Eurasia, a wide variety of wild edible berries (Vaccinium, Empetrum, Rubus and Ribes) and mushrooms are gathered for food and vitamins. In the Russian Federation and Belarus, these provision services justify the protection and restoration of mires. In other parts of the world, local communities collect from wet peatlands a variety of plants for human nutrition or medical use.
Examples include wild (so-called ‘floating’) rice (Zizania aquatica) in North America; bog bean (Menyanthes trifoliata), calamus (Acorus calamus) and buffalo grass (Hierochloe odorata) in Europe; and sago palm (Metroxylon sagu) in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Paludiculture in Indonesia
So far no true paludicultures have been established in Southeast Asia. However, during the past ten years numerous reforestation trials on degraded peatlands have been developed. These trials also use trees that provide valuable non-timber forest products (NTFP). We advocate the (gradual) removal of drainage based plantations from peat and replacement with sustainable alternatives including the cultivation of indigenous commercially valuable species that do not require drainage such as Illipe Nut, Jelutung, Melaleuca, rattans and Sagu (paludiculture). This can be combined with other non-peat based economic activities (e.g. chicken/duck/goat/vegetable/fish farming) as well as REDD+ initiatives in support of climate smart land-use and equitable development resulting in sustainable landscapes.
Other low-intensity uses
Other traditional low-intensity uses include subsistence hunting and fishing. Especially in tropical peat swamp forests, fisheries are a major economic activity. Aquaculture of indigenous fish species can be an attractive land-use option and offer economic incentives for local communities in areas where many drainage canals must be blocked for hydrological restoration.
Recently, various options for site-adapted land use on wet and rewetted peatlands have been developed and tested. Some of these options revitalize traditional forms of land use through new utilization schemes (e.g. reed cutting for construction materials, such as insulation panels). Other options, such as native plant species which can be used for biofuels and biomass, provide innovative products for growing market demands.
Read more about paludiculture.
Marcel Silvius, Programme Head Climate-Smart Land Use